Review: Broken Strings

Book: Broken Strings (2019)
Author: Eric Walters and Kathy Kacer
Genre: MG, Near Historical (2002)
Rating: 3 stars

broken-stringsBasic plot: Shirli Berman has been cast in the musical, Fiddler on the Roof… although not quite in the role she’d hoped for (Hodel). She gets to be an old Jewish mama (Golde); and as she goes to her Jewish grandfather to help give her inspiration for the role, she begins to uncover his own history… something he never talked about. Until now.


1) The musical, Fiddler on the Roof, was one of the musicals I was a part of in high school. Although, I didn’t get such a plum role as Golde! So, I did enjoy attending the rehearsals with Shirli and all her friends.

2) I loved the relationship between Shirli and her grandfather, Zayde. Every day (or close to it), she brings him groceries and they have tea and talk. Shirli even brings Ben (Tevye in the musical).

3) I found it interesting that the setting is New Jersey in 2002, about six months after 9/11 happened. Of course, the book makes a bunch of connections with that event.

4) The historical connection with the Holocaust and the musicians who played at Auschwitz was something I haven’t come across before. I love it when history comes into books like this. Of course, this one is a very sad and heartbreaking connection.


1) [*Spoiler here] When their teacher is in an accident, Zayde comes forward to take her place until production. I wasn’t convinced by this plot point. First, he’s directing a musical he’s never seen before; and he’s avoided ALL musicals and the like for the past 50 years?? I would have preferred one of the kids to step up. Maybe Mindi, Shirli’s rival for Hodel…  [End Spoiler]

2) I wasn’t crazy about the puppy-love story between [*Spoiler] Shirli and Ben. I thought it was kind of unnecessary. And it was a tad predictable. [End Spoiler]

3) Why would ANYbody be unhappy to get the role of Golde is beyond me. (I could understand if she got the understudy.)


My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – I enjoyed this one. I’d recommend for any theatre enthusiasts, as well as those who have an interest in the history of the Holocaust.


Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Review: The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden

Book: The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden (2018)
Author: Karina Yan Glaser
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 4 stars

vanderbeeker-hidden-gardenBasic plot: The Vanderbeekers are back. But this time, while Isa’s away at music camp, her siblings are bored. That is until Mr. Jeet ends up in the hospital. Now the kids want to do something and they latch onto making a community garden in a nearby empty lot. But the horrible Herman Huxley is always there hanging around, and his dad is stirring up lots of trouble…


1) I love, love, love the big family of five kids… although, it’s kind of only four kids since Isa’s away for most of the book.

2) I was so happy to see their relationship with Mr. Beiderman (from the first book in the series) has grown! Yay! And I really like how he’s part of the solution to their problem with the garden.

3) Herman Huxley! This character (I don’t remember him from the first book) was one of the best parts of this book. I like how he’s introduced as being the essence of everything the Vanderbeeker kids can’t stand. And how he’s connected to Mr. Huxley who’s even worse trouble when it comes to the garden. [**Minor Spoiler] I like how he bonds with Hyacinth over knitting! [end Spoiler]

4) Another part I liked had to do with Jessie’s dream to go to science camp. Oliver figures this out, about halfway through the book. What I really liked was her sacrifice; and how that sacrifice comes back to bless her. (Thanks to Oliver!)

5) I enjoyed all the references to books like The Secret Garden and Mandy. And all the bits about gardening. One of the more memorable scenes for me is when the friend offers the Vanderbeekers the bagged soil that’s sitting around her apartment. I knew that wasn’t going to end well!


1) The cover of the book makes it seem like the story is set in the autumn. It’s not. It’s set in summer (June and July). Don’t ask me why the leaves have already turned orange.


My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – A good sequel to the first Vanderbeeker book. This is definitely a quieter book than most. If you enjoy stories about big groups of siblings (like the Penderwicks), then this book is for you.


Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

ARC Review: The Sound of Silence

sound-of-silenceThe Sound of Silence // by Myron Uhlberg
Release Date: May 1, 2019
Genre: MG, Memoir

**Note: I received a free copy of this title from the people at NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.**

My Thoughts: What an interesting read! I found this book fascinating. The subtitle is: Growing Up Hearing with Deaf Parents. And that’s pretty much the book in a nutshell. The story takes place in Brooklyn in the 1930s and 40s.

This is not your typical middle-grade read, however. The book is not plot-driven and is episodic in nature. Basically, it’s a slice of life. One of my favourite scenes was when he teaches his classmates how to sign.

I personally really enjoyed this book; not sure how kids will take it, though. I would probably recommend it for older kids who are interested in memoir, and also the subject of deafness and what it means to be deaf.

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5)

Crimson’s Creative Challenge #12


In response to Crimson’s Creative Challenge #12

Crimsonprose posted a photo: “Two (almost identical) bulls stand guard on the entrance to Blickling Hall, (Nr Aylsham, Norfolk), both hold a shield to display the family’s heraldic devices. The family? The Boleyns.”

My response: A photo from my archives. This is one of the two lions that stand guard at the entrance of the New York Public Library (on 5th Avenue in Manhattan). The lions even have names. I believe this one is called Fortitude. (His twin is Patience.)

Check out the original Creative Challenge post here

Review: Towers Falling

towers-fallingBook: Towers Falling (2016)
Author: Jewell Parker Rhodes
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic Plot: Deja lives with her family in what can only be described as a homeless shelter in Brooklyn. She’s at a new school, and she’s hoping to stay here. One day, Miss Garcia points out the difference in the Manhattan skyline–namely the absence of the Twin Towers. Deja is intrigued. She doesn’t know anything about those towers. However, when she brings them up to her father, his dark reaction surprises her. And now she’s afraid he’s going to take her away, not just from her new school, but from her new set of friends as well.


1) I really enjoyed watching the friendship blossom between Deja, Ben, and Sabeen. We get to see it from the very beginning, which is nice.

2) I like how the teachers were dealing with the tragedy for a generation that was born after the towers fell. As a teacher in Queens in 2001, I taught the kids who lived through it. So, I was indeed fascinated by this. What blew my mind was that Miss Garcia (the teacher) was in 5th grade during 9/11!

3) The scene at the site of the World Trade Center… The author captured this memorial in a really wonderful way. I was just there, so it was all fresh in my mind. The water fall footprints of the towers. The white roses. The names. This part was possibly the best scene for me.

4) The storyline with the father was nicely done. (Although, I will say, when he finally speaks, he almost says too much. Which I felt was a little out of character for him.) This was a very emotional and cathartic scene.

5) I loved Deja’s dedication to her family. She helps her parents out with her two younger siblings. I loved her for that!

6) I really like what they did with the cover art… how the Freedom Tower stands where the Twin Towers once stood. And how things are upsidedown and topsy-turvy.


1) Deja was a little too introspective for me at times. Especially when you consider that she’s only ten years old. In some ways, she seems like a teenager.

2) When Deja goes to visit her friend Sabeen for the first time–Sabeen is Muslim–the family makes a comment that Deja would make a good Muslim. I found that a REALLY WEIRD thing to say to a child the first time you meet them. Especially a non-Muslim child. It felt like they were trying to convert her??

3) At one point in the book, Deja brings her dad to the school. He seems to walk right in, down the halls, and enters her classroom. Ahem. I taught school in NYC and NO PARENT (and certainly no adult, unless they were a teacher) was able to enter the school at all. Doors are locked. The only way in is through the school office. (The student entrances are locked or manned by a teacher.) So, I had a really hard time with this part of the plot.


My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – This book is about the events of 9/11, but 15 years after the fact. Since I lived and worked in New York City during September 11, 2001, I feel a close connection. However, I don’t like watching the footage. But this book hit the right notes for me. It’s not a perfect book, but it’s worth the read.


Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Photo Challenge #44 / Look Up

20180928ma_5331“Starry Sky” / Theme: Look Up

A little about this photo…

This is the Great Hall, located in Queens, NY. It was constructed for the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. Housed in the Hall of Science, its theme was Rendezvous in Space… hence the blue glass that makes up the walls of this giant room. And it really is a giant room (something you can’t quite grasp from the photo). During the World’s Fair, the exhibit featured Frank Capra’s final film projected onto a suspended screen. Apparently, when the film ended, two space modules performed a docking maneuver overhead!

I have two photos and I couldn’t decide which one I liked better. So I decided to put the second one below…


THIS WEEKLY PHOTO CHALLENGE is posted every Saturday. Please join me in posting your own photos with #2018picoftheweek

Photo Challenge #42 / Transportation

20180926ma_5009“Coming in for a Landing” / Theme: Transportation

A little about this photo…

That’s the Manhattan skyline, framed by the trees. This shot was taken from Queens, near LaGuardia Airport. And yes, that’s an airplane coming in for a landing. (I just love how the tail of the plane just peeking out from the leaves of the trees!)

THIS WEEKLY PHOTO CHALLENGE is posted every Saturday. Please join me in posting your own photos with #2018picoftheweek

Photo Challenge #41 / Symmetry

20180927ma_5024“Brooklyn Bridge” / Theme: Symmetry

A little about this photo…

I absolutely LOVE the the Brooklyn Bridge and it’s definitely on my list of recommended sites for anybody going to New York City. I don’t often get to come here when I get into the City, but we had a day to dedicate to a bit of a history tour of Lower Manhattan. And this just happened to be our first stop. (I have two similar photos. One with the street lamp and a different angle without the lamp. The little rebel in me decided to go with this one, even though it technically goes against the definition of symmetry!)

THIS WEEKLY PHOTO CHALLENGE is posted every Saturday. Please join me in posting your own photos with #2018picoftheweek

Photo Challenge #40 / City

20180927ma_5145“It’s 1783 in New York City” / Theme: City

A little about this photo…

This is the Fraunces Tavern in the heart of Lower Manhattan, and it’s not too far from Wall Street and the site of the World Trade Center. Back in 1783, the Revolutionary War had just ended. General George Washington chose this location to bid farewell to the officers of the Continental Army. (Note: This is also not far from the location where Washington would later be sworn into office as the first president of the United States (1789). It wouldn’t be until 1801 that the capital city would be Washington D.C.)

This is not the building you usually picture when you think of New York City. But I think that’s partly why I chose it for the City prompt. I love how this building exists next to all the modern skyscrapers.

THIS WEEKLY PHOTO CHALLENGE is posted every Saturday. Please join me in posting your own photos with #2018picoftheweek

Review: A House of Tailors

Book: A House of Tailors (2004)
Author: Patricia Reilly Giff
Genre: Upper MG, Historical (1870s)
Rating: 4 Stars

house-of-tailorsBasic Plot: Dina is coming to America. It was supposed to be her sister on the boat, but plans don’t always go the way you intend. When her uncle sees her at the dock, he isn’t happy. And the situation at her uncle’s isn’t quite what Dina was planning for either. She wants nothing more than to escape the life of a seamstress. The problem is that the Uncle is a tailor, and he expects her to help him as part of her keep. That’s when Dina decides she’s going to start saving her money so she can buy a ticket back to Germany. However it’s not going to be as easy as she thinks.


1) History is my thing. And it’s been awhile since I’ve read a good immigrant story. This one happens to be about the 1870s in New York City. One of my favourite historical sites in NYC is the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side. While technically this story takes place in Brooklyn, I assume there’s a lot of similarities. So, it was fun to read a story that has a setting from one of my favourite museums! Complete with the sewing machine!

2) The Uncle and Dina go head-to-head. First, I love how he’s called the Uncle. Not Uncle Lucas, but just the Uncle. It perfectly encapsulates their relationship. Then compare Dina’s relationship to Barbara (the aunt, but always called just Barbara) and baby Maria, who give Dina the love and support she needs so far away from her family back in Germany. (And, as it turns out, the Uncle isn’t as bad as all that.)

3) Dina’s a feisty one. I admire her determination and her quick thinking. One of my favourite stories involves the small pox plot. I loved it even more when I found out that this is a story that stems from the author’s own family history!

4) I like how the hats come into play in the story. And can I say that I was cringing during the scene where she’s a brand new maid at the rich lady’s house. She’s just supposed to take breakfast up and leave it for the mistress of the house, but when she sees all the hats… Well. Ooh, boy!

5) I love the twist with the sister. I’ll leave it at that.


1) I’m not sure I completely bought the motivation near the end of the book where [SPOILER] the Uncle decides to send Dina back to Germany, like she wished.[END SPOILER] I understand the reason why the author needed this to happen, but I wasn’t totally sold on how it fit in with the plot.

2) Also, the relationship with Johann is a little odd since she’s only 13 years old. During those scenes, she seemed so much older, like I was suddenly reading a book about a 16-year-old. Again, I understand why the author did this, but at times this plot-line almost  seemed too old.


My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I really enjoyed this book. Which isn’t too surprising since I really enjoy reading almost everything by this author. I’d recommend it to anybody who loves history, especially if you love a good historical book about the immigrant experience in New York City.


Have you read this book? What did you think of it? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!